Dean's address at SPJIMR Day, 17th April 2020

Good evening and welcome to SPJIMR faculty/staff/student’s alumni,

It is great that so many members of the SPJIMR family are coming together on this occasion.

Your institute turns 39 today. Under normal circumstances, this would be a time to celebrate, reflect, share and then celebrate a little more. But these are not normal circumstances.

39 is an interesting age. At 39, you are still young enough to try new things, to pivot when needed, and to face new and difficult challenges with positivity and energy. You are also old enough to be taken seriously by your peers, to be responsible, to realise that you are responsible for the wellbeing  of many others, and it is in the privileged exercise of this responsibility that much of your purpose lies.

It has been a whirlwind 45 days for us at the institute. I still recall the day after we asked our students to leave the hostels. I took a walk up and down the length and breadth of our institute. It felt eerily different. It was as though someone had taken a gigantic vacuum cleaner and sucked the energy out of the institute. I had said it before, but never felt it as much as I did that day. The students are the lifeblood of our institute. It is your energy, your laughter and your success that keeps us going. The African phrase Ubuntu taken literally means I am because you are. It is true of our relationship with our community . We are who we are because you are who you are.

I have been very proud of the strength and resilience that our community has displayed in these times. Every crisis is an opportunity to demonstrate your values. The two key values that we think should be at the centre of our response to the current crisis are: concern for the medium term and long term well being of our students and our community, and concern and compassion for others, many of whom are facing a far more difficult situation than we are.

We have been quick to move to online classes in many programs. The rationale has been to create continuity of learning, and ensure that when operations return to face to face classes, we are relatively ready to hit the ground running, and recover lost ground. This, in itself, has not been easy. Our faculty are having to unlearn strengths built over a lifetime and adapt to an environment where you can not hear the sounds of desks thumping, or the laughter and energy of a class which has been surprised by the warmth, humour and panache of a skilful teacher. Many of our students are taking classes in difficult and uncertain environments. Many (more so our older students) have to cater to significant household responsibilities. Families are sometimes physically split by the uncertainty of a sudden lockdown. The elderly are vulnerable and concerned, and shouldering these responsibilities, in tandem with the pressure of staring at a small screen for multiple hours, can be stressful and difficult. Often technology is not consistent (both within and across locations), and for both our students and staff, there is so much that you have to do to just stay at the same place.

One of the most important things in these situations is the quality and frequency of communication. Our HR team has been reaching out to each and every staff member to understand their current situation and provide support, where needed and feasible. Many of us have started small group meetings with students, staff and faculty. I have done many of these charchas myself, and have learned and found inspiration from the resourcefulness of others. A student in our management program for women told me that in the initial days of the lockdown she was frustrated at both her inability to find regular time for exercise, and the inability to find regular ‘we’ time with her daughter. One day, her daughter came to her and said ‘Mama, come dance with me’ I was speaking to her a day after, and she saw a solution in a regular mother daughter dance session. It is a metaphor, and a powerful one at that. In every crisis, there lies an opportunity to dance with your loved ones. Another student told me that she and her husband have set aside time for a weekly date. They identify a location in the house, dress up and create an environment. It provides something to look forward to, and can be both creative and enjoyable. Students are rediscovering blogging, music and more. They are also reaching out and supporting other families-both financially and psychologically.

At your institute, we are paying full salaries to everyone associated with the institute-both full time and contract. The head of our Abhyudaya program has put out an appeal for financial support for the families of our Sitaras. Many within the institute have donated generously, and there has been alumni support too. The institute has donated one day of institute salary to the Prime Minister’s fund as an institute contribution. A drive has been initiated for an employee contribution of similar magnitude (this is voluntary, and typically to the tune of one day’s salary) to the same fund. Of course, many within our community actively support specific causes, and are reaching out to do what they can. There are many families which support our day to day life. It is our responsibility to take care of their livelihood, and stay in touch to support them at a personal level.

Positivity in crisis is easier said than done, it is easy to focus on plans that have been rudely and unexpectedly destroyed. Today, our alumni, students, faculty and staff are all facing multiple challenges. There are often large concerns about the future, about companies planning across the board pay cuts, about jobs which are uncertain, about the impact on a placement season yet to come. These concerns can be numbing and create a cycle of negativity. Positivity must begin with acceptance of an unprecedented crisis. It is unfair, it is difficult but it is real and it has happened. Once we accept, we can turn our attention to things in our control and begin to find ourselves. I have recently found myself asking many questions about the following scenario: Imagine that the crisis is over and you sitting across a table with an interviewer/boss/mentor. He/she asks you: You were in a lockdown for X days. How did you make the best use of this phase? Take some time to think about your best possible answer to that question. What can you do in the next five days to begin to make that answer a reality? It is an artefact, and a useful one. Imagination and purposive action help us rediscover our ability to rise above our circumstances.

Today is SPJIMR day. It is also the original date for the convocation for our current graduating batch. Today, we have made available provisional graduation certificates for the class of 2020. I congratulate the class of 2020. A convocation is a unique and special occasion, and we can only apologise for not being able to give you that experience today. However, you must celebrate your milestone personally. We are exploring convocation alternatives , and will do whatever is in our power to make the final conferment of qualification memorable.

There are many challenges to come. Companies are hurting, and economies across the world are facing a recessionary environment. We have to find employment and growth in this circumstance. The power of our community will be crucial in this situation. We must come together as a community to help each other. In doing so, we may find new opportunities and give new meaning to courage and heart.

This is also a time to reflect on the world that we live in. So many of the things that we care about are driven by material concerns, competition , insecurity and the desire to appear successful to others. This is a time to think about our lives, to pause, and often to realise that many of the things that are essential to our happiness are systematically taken for granted on a day to day basis.

I do not think the world will return to normal, in the sense of the way things were. It will be a new normal, and much will change. If we reflect and adapt to life, relationships and the purpose of society - we may find opportunities in this crisis. There is a chance to think together and create better lives for ourselves and the planet.

On the occasion of SPJIMR Day, I wish you health, safety and the courage to find your best self. This too shall pass, and together, we will emerge stronger and wiser.

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